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PostPosted: Wed December 30th, 2009, 21:53 GMT 
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For a variety of reasons not worth getting into here, I decided to put my proposed book on Theme Time on indefinite hold. However, my research generated some worthwhile content, which - Dreamtime being on hiatus too - I'm going to occasionally post here. This first excerpt, some commentary on the pilot episode, "The Weather"

Windy Cities

"Chicago’s known as the Windy City, but it’s not the windiest city in the U. S. The windiest city is Dodge City, Kansas. Other windy cities are Amarillo, Texas, and Rochester, Minnesota. ~Bob Dylan, "Weather" episode

Theme Time Radio Hour sources often can be found by entering a few key words into Yahoo or Google and following the results. Dylan’s 2006 list of the windiest cities in the U.S. appears to have come from a 2005 USATODAY.com article, the first link appearing in Google results for the phrase, windiest city in the U.S. (without using quote marks).

“…the windiest U.S. city is Dodge City, Kansas, with an average speed of 13.9 mph. Other windy cities include Amarillo, Texas (13.5 mph) and Rochester, Minn. (13.1 mph.).”

Using the first results they found was a habit that would occasionally get the Theme Time researchers into hot water with the show’s more discerning listeners. An unhappy fan pointed out midway through Season 1 that many of the Theme Time stories about the music and musicians were reproduced almost verbatim from Wikipedia articles. By Season 2 the TTRH team was taking a little more time and care with their sources.

Errors and Omissions

Sometimes the information the TTRH team found would be dead wrong, with the error repeated on-air by Dylan. In the "Weather" show alone, he wrongly informs us that Jimmy Davis wrote "You Are My Sunshine," (Davis didn't, he bought the song for $35) that Johnny Bragg, lead singer of "The Prisonaires," had been jailed for 99 years at age 11 (Bragg was 17 when first incarcerated), and mangles "Summer Wind" lyricist Hans Bradtke's name while claiming with tongue-in-cheek that he was a famous Dane (Bradtke was German).

Minor errors that would hardly affect anyone's enjoyment of the show even if noticed, which no one did, as no one noticed later in the "Weather" show that Dylan was speaking gibberish when introducing Stevie Wonder's Italian version of "A Place in the Sun."

That segment is a nice demonstration of how you can get away with almost anything just as long as you do it with enough brio, which could have been Theme Time Radio Hour's slogan. "E Prima della, frittatas," Dylan intones with great relish in what sounds like a metropolitan commentary on “A Place in the Sun” but instead is mostly the names of different foods.

While still a student at Emerson College in the late `70s, Eddie Gorodetsky was one of the writers and stars of a parody of Italian art films, “Nino, Nino, Nino.” The dialogue in the hour-long movie was conducted entirely in the same pseudo-Italian Dylan uses in his introduction, including a heavy reliance on the names of Italian foods.

A Missing Intro and Outro

A more noticeable error in the "Weather" episode was Dylan neither providing introduction nor closing mention of the song after playing Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Didn’t It Rain,” an omission he would note 16 episodes later, on the “Friends & Neighbors” show, when he next played one of the Sister's songs. While it’s possible that both intro and outro were cut during editing, it’s more likely that the mistake was caused by the sequence not being programmed correctly into the XM computer system.

XM’s occasional errors exposing Theme Time’s high-tech seams infuriated the TTRH producers, who spent much of their time trying to maintain the illusion that TTRH was produced as many listeners probably imagined it produced, with Bob Dylan in a studio, spinning platters as he provided a running commentary on the songs. In reality, Dylan's narrative was recorded separately from the other show elements and later mixed in, a common technique in modern radio known as “voice tracking.” When a similar mistake happened in a later show, this time with Dylan's voice introducing one song and another being played, a livid Eddie Gorodetsky called the East Coast at 7 a.m. his time to have the error fixed in later rebroadcasts.

Red Winds and Stormy Weather

"One of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair. Oh yeah, make your nerve jump and your skin itch. Always on the edge of hell fire.

"It’s hard for people who have not lived on the West Coast to realize how radical the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination. West Coast weather is the weather of catastrophe. The Santa Ana winds are like the winds of the Apocalypse."
~Bob Dylan, "Weather" episode

Given Bob Dylan’s well-documented appropriations from other sources for use in everything from his music to Chronicles, it’s not surprising that he borrowed all his Theme Time commentary on the Santa Ana winds from other writers…. all quotations that can be found in its Wikipedia entry.

Dylan’s first remark is a paraphrase of Raymond Chandler’s famous lines on the infamous winds “…it was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.”

Since the next quote is also found on the Wikipedia page, Dylan's mention of, “…always on the edge of hell fire” seems to be a reworking of a line found in Robert Crais’ mystery novel, “Chasing Darkness.” “…a sick desert wind carried the promise of Hell.”

The next set of lines are definitely from Joan Didion’s essay, “Los Angeles Notebook” published in "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," the first a near-quote and the latter two lines paraphrased from the same essay, both having “West Coast” substituted for “Los Angeles.” Didion writes, “It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination.…” “…Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse…."

Bob Dylan seldom mentioned his personal history during TTRH's run. He seemed to be determined to maintain the persona of anonymous `50s deejay with an eccentric taste in music, especially during the first season. But while introducing The Spaniels' light-hearted take on "Stormy Weather," Dylan remarked,

"The Spaniels, with their lead singer Pookie Hudson, were on that ill-fated tour with Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Link Wray, and a bunch of others… which means probably I saw them. Winter Dance Party, February, 1959."

While it’s entirely possible that the 17-year-old Bob Dylan was in attendance at the Winter Dance Party show in the Duluth Armory on January 31st 1959, as he’s claimed on several occasions, he didn’t see either The Spaniels or Link Wray during that show. Neither the group nor Wray were part of the `59 tour either before or after Holly’s death.

For reasons known only to the pranksters, The Spaniels’ Wikipedia entry is regularly vandalized to include the factoid that the group was part of the 1959 Winter Dance Party tour. It’s likely that the TTRH research team stumbled across the fake fact there. Dylan is careful to note that he “probably” saw The Spaniels, perhaps ad-libbing while wondering why he didn’t remember seeing them.


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PostPosted: Tue July 20th, 2010, 22:58 GMT 
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Fred, You always have something interesting to say- I like reading your posts.

Recently, I rented a car and didn't have any of my own stuff to listen to, so scanning the radio dial, UGH! So much just Noise, layer on layer of "stuff"- "producer-itis" on top of itself, and I was thinking how good it would be to have disc jockeys that talked like Bob did with interesting comments like he made, and even ads that were fun instead of so frenetic. Public Radio is pretty good, but Bob's style was better


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PostPosted: Fri July 30th, 2010, 00:37 GMT 

Joined: Thu April 23rd, 2009, 19:37 GMT
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"Sometimes the information the TTRH team found would be dead wrong, with the error repeated on-air by Dylan. In the "Weather" show alone, he wrongly informs us that Jimmy Davis wrote "You Are My Sunshine," (Davis didn't, he bought the song for $35) that Johnny Bragg, lead singer of "The Prisonaires," had been jailed for 99 years at age 11 (Bragg was 17 when first incarcerated), and mangles "Summer Wind" lyricist Hans Bradtke's name while claiming with tongue-in-cheek that he was a famous Dane (Bradtke was German)."

Seems like virtually everything he says on the show has to be taken with a lot of big grains of salt. Complete honesty was never a high priority with him. I mean, this was the guy who ran off with a bunch of his friends rare records. Also, he told people, even a radio audience, he was from New Mexico and that he ran away to join the circus. LOL

I was just re-listening to the "Eyes" show and Dylan describes Sonny Boy Williamson as host of The King Biscuit Flower Hour, which is not true. Sonny Boy was associated with "King Biscuit Time" - a different show. The long-time host (since 1951) is "Sunshine" Sonny Payne. Sonny Boy Williamson performed on the first show, in 1941, and became part of the show's original house band, but he wasn't the host.

Maybe Bob's staff got confused -- or they played a joke on him.

As to the King Biscuit Flower Hour, the long-time host there was Bill Minkin - until the mid-90s. That show started in 1973. Sonny Boy died in 1965.


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PostPosted: Sat July 31st, 2010, 13:27 GMT 
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Finish the book!!! and I'll buy it. I love the show and read you article with great interest. I find Dylan, his persona, music, book, radio show all entertaining, and interesting. Best wishes and hoping you have the opportunity to finish the work.


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